Schools question 'heaps' of plastic used for Sats

Hundreds of thousands of plastic bags are used during Sats - and schools want to know if alternative wrapping has been considered

Helen Ward

Schools have questioned whether it is necessary to wrap thousands of Sats tests in plastic

The Sats may be over, but their impact on the environment may be felt for a while – with schools highlighting the “heaps” of plastic involved in the tests.

Around 15,000 state-funded primary schools had to administer tests in maths; reading; and spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) for their 10- and 11-year-old pupils last week. The test papers are sent to schools wrapped in plastic bags, and have to be returned to be marked in another set of plastic bags.

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But many have questioned whether quite so much plastic is required – especially given the Department for Education’s single-use plastic reduction initiative, launched in December 2018, which challenges schools to go plastic-free


The Department for Education's Standards and Testing Agency (STA) says that the bags it uses are recyclable and states that the bags used to return Sats papers are recycled.

But, in its test guidance, the agency also acknowledges that whether schools can recycle the bags which the papers arrived in will depend on local arrangements.

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"While this material is recyclable, not all local authorities will process it, so schools should check their local refuse and recycling policy. Alternatively, many of the larger supermarkets offer plastic wrapping recycling facilities. Schools using an independent commercial waste disposal service should confirm recycling provision with their supplier,” the STA's guidance states.

Around 600,000 pupils took the key stage 2 tests this year. The tests consist of six papers across the three subjects of maths, reading and Spag.

The test papers arrive in schools in packs of 10 per plastic bag (25 per bag for the spelling test). Once each test is completed, each set of papers has to be packaged up in a clear plastic bag.

There are also four separate green plastic bags, one for each day of the Sats, which are used to return papers which were modified for pupils with additional needs. These bags must then be put inside white plastic bags, using at least one per test, for posting. 

This means that a typical two-form entry school with 60 pupils per year group would receive at least 55 bags just for the key stage 2 tests. 

And that is without counting the bags which the packaging bags come in.

Some schools wondered whether it may be better just to use alternative forms of packaging.

Hernhill CE Primary‏ @HernhillSchool May 18


A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The education secretary has urged all schools to eliminate their use of single-use plastics by 2022, as we know the harm that plastic can do to the environment.

“The packing used for Sats tests is recyclable. It protects the test papers in transit and prevents the tests being tampered with once completed. However, we do regularly review the availability of non-plastic alternatives.”



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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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